My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Day 55

Remember the Dick Surgeon?  Let’s call him “Mario.”  (His name has not been changed.)  Turns out “Mario” is a con-of-all-trades and amid a myriad of his professional services he also runs a t-shirt dyeing hustle.  Up in here, you would catch serious heat from the PO-PO for any alterations/modifications done to the institution-issued uniforms (i.e., prison khakis), however, theoretically, you COULD modify, within reason, personally purchased “recreation” wear from the commissary.  This would include long-sleeved thermal undershirts, Hanes white t-shirts. athletic shorts, etc.  I say “theoretically” because there isn’t anything explicit in the handbook that says you CAN’T modify this clothing, but there are plenty of rules here that seem to originate at random and out of thin air.

In an attempt to deviate from the conformity of prison life and to establish some personal flair, some inmates have subtly altered their clothing without drawing the unnecessary attention of the prison staff.  An example of which is the color transformation of t-shirts.  Because many of these inmates have been transferred from other institutions over the duration of their “career,” and because different merchandise is offered for sale at other prison commissaries, it would not be unusual for prisoners to have personal items that didn’t originate from this particular joint.

So, if a dude walks to the yard wearing a bad-ass, charcoal grey thermal shirt…he will look cool without the guard necessarily wondering where he got the paint for the dye job; the shirt could have very well been sold that way from another prison store since the merchandise is not standard across all Federal prisons.  (But, if you really want to know, he got the paint from another inmate who smuggled it out of the compound paint shop…so, this is, in fact, a multi-layered hustle involving several conspirators.)

For the price of a commissary-purchased white t-shirt (3 for $10) and approximately 5 stamps, you can rock some pretty cool gear.  You just need to know who to ask, which isn’t very difficult to figure out.  (Although, it WOULD be much easier if there was some sort of bulletin board offering services, goods for sale, and maybe even real estate transactions — you know, cubicle sublets and “roommate(s) needed.”)

Enter my main man, and next door neighboor, who was interested in getting his t-shirts dyed.  Let’s call him “Ian” — a 45-year-old hypermanic alcoholic bipolar with East Coast, blueblood lineage who is serving a 6-month sentence for a DUI (yes, a Federal crime when arrested on Government property).  Regardless of the grief the other inmates give him because of A) the relative whimsy of his crime and the subsequent brevity of his sentence; B) his uber yuppie haircut; and C) his slightly inappropriate, gregarious and outgoing nature…he is making the most of his short time here…as if he’s been confined to a landlocked pleasure cruise — coaching and playing in the prison soccer league, taking up oil painting, and paying the little Asian inmate who works in the laundry to convert his standard-issue laundry bag into a mildly effeminate backpack, like those little purses the ladies would wear on their backs in the early 90’s.

Anyway, this was his latest attempt at “fitting in.”  I haven’t yet been able to see firsthand how this process is done, however, I think it goes a little something like this:  “Mario” throws the t-shirts in a garbage bag, adds the paint, lets them soak for a while, removes them and then puts the shirts in the clothes dryer on high for about an hour.  Clearly, there is a fair amount of labor involved as he then has to thoroughly clean the interior of the dryer when he is finished and remove all the leftover paint.

You should have seen “Ian” as he received his newly transformed t-shirts, like a kid on Christmas morning…albeit, a kid in prison with low expectations.  He was, indeed, super excited; however, out of the five shirts that he had dyed, three of them had turned out a little darker than what he was hoping for…so he proceeded to wash them immediately several times in the laundry using hot water.  The result?  Not exactly what he had in mind.  The overall shade of grey was definitely much lighter and had that “worn in” and faded look…but the subsequent lightening of the color also now revealed many abnormal dark blotches all over the shirts, on both the fronts and backs.  It looked as if someone had used the t-shirts to wipe down a greasy kitchen counter.

Turns out, from what we could gather, that the paint “Mario” had acquired from the other inmate was not purely water-based but actually a mixture of both oil and water-based paints of the same basic color.  Upon learning this, “Ian” remarked in true white-boy fashion, “Oh hell to the NO-NO!”  The part of the paint that was oil-based had essentially stained the shirt and would not fade at the same rate as the water-based paint.  Unfortunately, there was no real way to correct this.  I suppose that you could maybe re-dye the shirts entirely with an oil-based paint, however, that would create a much darker shade than he was hoping for and also a much larger mess that would have to be handled.

I never thought it would be possible to see an actual mushroom cloud of anger emanating from the top of one’s head.  I really enjoy Ian’s company and all of his idiosyncrasies, although the things that make him obsessively angry are oftentimes hysterical and it is difficult to not laugh at him when he gets in one of these moods, primarily because it is so difficult to take his anger seriously.  He should have realized that in prison, these services are rendered at the buyer’s own risk.  No refunds, no exchanges.

A few hours later, I was up in my bunk reading a book when another dude from our circle of misfits comes rushing in to my neighbor’s cube exclaiming, “S.D.! Your bunky is about to get his ass kicked by “Mario” at the ice machine.”

(S.D. is one of Ian’s cubemates.  S.D., his nickname, is an abbreviation for ‘Shake Down.’  Talk about an odd trio sharing a living space…I’ve already described “Ian”; S.D. is a black, extremely polite and mild mannered former drug dealer from East St. Louis, Illinois, who is finishing up a twelve-year sentence for dealing crack, and their other cubemate is a 65-year-old Hispanic man from Detroit who goes by “Mr. Smith” who is in here for doctor-shopping oxycontin and then selling it illegally.  With their constant bickering, “Mr. Smith” reminds me of Red Foxx’s “Sanford” as he plays to S.D.’s “Lamont.”  This could easily be a new CBS sitcom.)

S.D. dropped what he was doing and immediately rushed over to the ice machine to try and rectify the situation.  Turns out that “Ian” was calmly explaining the situation and looking for some sort of resolution when “Mario” immediately became enraged, believing that he was getting DISRESPECTED about the quality of his work.  Eventually, cooler heads prevailed, but no resolutions had come out of it…at least not yet.  “Ian” was at least hoping for his money back (which he had paid for the dyeing process) and he would consider the price that he had paid for his t-shirts as a loss.  In the meantime, they both must pass each other within close proximity, pretending that the other does not exist.

And it looks like the Dick Doctor may have lost a future customer.


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